Seeing Students in HD

I had the opportunity to see Dean Andrew Wall of the University of Redlands School of Education speak recently at the #BetheOne Open House on the campus of the U of R. He spoke about viewing education as a river with tributaries in which the tributaries (like NCLB, Common Core, ESSA…) affect the river and can even change the course of the river, as opposed to viewing education as a cliff in which we are in danger of falling over because we are failing.


I would like to use a similar structure to look at the state of curriculum and instruction.


How many of us have heard of the “pendulum” that swings back and forth? The pendulum that divides two views on education that cycle back and forth. The pendulum that has everyone saying, “We’ve done this before. Here we go again.”


I would like for you to not view curriculum and instruction as the pendulum as you read this, but instead think about it as a television set. If you will indulge me, I will try to adjust the antenna and make this picture clearer.


I would propose that the reason many people see the pendulum is because they are seeing education from the small TV set with dials, no remote, and a small screen. We have more research about learning than we’ve ever had in the history of education, but because our lens to view it, our picture to see it is a small standard definition screen, we often don’t see the bigger picture. We focus on small bits and pieces because that is all we can see in that small screen. Viewing our HD and even Ultra HD world on a small screen can alter the picture and make you miss important details.


Curriculum developers that design “Common Core” curriculum do this when they create curricula that is designed to cover the standards, in a way where you can almost use the standards as a check off sheet as you go through the year. At the California Mathematics Council-South Convention in October of 2015, Cathy Fosnot said that in Dutch there is one word “leren” that means both teaching and learning. The point is you didn’t teach it if the students didn’t learn it. As educators, we can’t teach curriculum, we must teach students. We can’t focus on isolated skills or work through a textbook and expect students to be 21st century learners.


A narrow view of the Common Core standards can prevent you from seeing in HD. The Common Core was designed to evaluate, critique, compare, apply, and communicate knowledge. This is the real work of the Common Core.


But how do we teach that? The answer is not in a teacher’s guide. It’s not in a curriculum map. To find the answer, we need a different lens to view curriculum and instruction; we need a newer television. We need a 21st century widescreen 4K Ultra HD television set. We need to see the bigger picture in education. We need to more clearly see all of the research (for example: growth mindset work by Carol Dweck, visible learning research by John Hattie) about learning. We need to see the whole picture.


Let me give you a preview of a premium channel. In October 2015, I saw Lucy Calkins speak at the California Reading Association conference in Riverside, CA. She spoke about nonfiction reading and writing. She made the point that “organizing is how people learn.” Structure of texts is critical to understanding and creating text. Ruby Payne’s work with understanding the culture of poverty was groundbreaking. She discussed the idea that students from poverty often don’t understand the structure of a story. Story structure in a culture of poverty is often circular, going on and on, but not really progressing through a sequence of events. A couple of weeks ago, I attended a district ELD training. We looked at the shift in the California ELD standards from a focus on isolated skills to an understanding of the structure of language. And currently, I am taking an online course called Number Sense 101. The instructor, Christina Tondevold, shared a strategy for working with story problems with younger students. The idea was to uncover one part of the story at a time. Each time pausing to ask the students, “What do you notice? What do you think will happen next?” As you work toward the end, then you can ask, “What do you think the question will be?” The point is to focus on the structure of the story problem, not look for keywords or other “shortcuts” to find the answer.

A common theme among all of those examples was how important it is for students to see structure, because then they can evaluate, critique, compare, apply, and communicate knowledge.


When you view educational research on a bigger screen, you will be able to evaluate, critique, compare, apply, and communicate knowledge.  This is the same type of thinking we want from our students.


So I ask you to invest in a new television, not the old TV that only allows you to watch the pendulum swing, but the big new 4K Ultra HD widescreen that allows you to see the bigger picture.  The picturesque view of the research on learning. Only then will we truly see our students in HD!